Serious Merlot, but not so serious. That’s my beef with a lot of Napa Valley Merlots. They make me want to be like Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight and say, “Why so serious?” Merlot at its best is rich, yes, but also supple—dark in tone but also bright—deep but also superfluous. Merlot is somehow always dancing between the fine line of depression and giddiness. I guess you could say it’s a schizophrenic type of wine. That’s what makes it so great. It’s a wine for when you’re pissed off, and it’s a wine for when you’re in love —but especially when you feel both things at the same time. When you love someone but want to kill them too. That’s Merlot.
The 2011 SWANSON Napa Valley Merlot brilliantly delivers the interplay of the dark side/light side. I guess that’s why they call this a “Cab lover’s Merlot.” On the nose: bright cherry and cranberry; on the palate: black currant, smoke, spice and bitter espresso. Medium body and cottony mouthfeel with a sharp cut of acidity. Decant this wine for at least one hour to soften the nervy outer edges, and then the beast comes out. Some artists, like Francis Bacon, Sam Peckinpah and Truman Capote, knew how to make the violent beautiful. The Swanson is American Merlot at its tempestuous best. –J.M.
Great Wine: Recanati Reserve Merlot, Manara Vineyard